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Reader Mo asked,
I’d really like to get to South Africa on one of the American Airlines carriers (preferably somewhere near the front of the plane) . What is your best strategy? Citi thank you points are my biggest bounty, and I have a smattering of [Starwood] and [American] miles. I’m an [American AAdvantage Platinum], working toward [top tier Executive Platinum] next year, but still new to the game… Seems like the rules to Africa get messy on [American]. Thanks in advance!
American Airlines doesn’t fly to Africa. American Airlines doesn’t have a lot of partners flying to Africa. As a general matter, American and their partners aren’t ideal for most Africa flying although their Qatar Airways partnership does help here.
Using Citibank Points to Get to Africa
Mo’s biggest stash of points are with Citi ThankYou Rewards. That’s interesting because folks with the Citi Prestige Card can redeem those points for American (and US Airways) tickets at 1.6 cents apiece towards paid airfare.
Citi Prestige is a great card, it offers 50,000 points as a signup bonus after $3000 spend within 3 months. It’s a $450 card that comes with American Airlines lounge access as well as Priority Pass Select for lounge access. And in the first annual fee year you can get the $250 airfare credit (buy airline tickets — no messing around with gift cards or baggage fees) twice — if you get the card now you can still get the $250 in 2015 and then again in 2016 before the card renews.
I like the card best for points transfers to airlines, like Singapore Airlines (for Suites redemptions) and Etihad (for their first class product).
But since you earn triple points on air and hotels and double points on dining and entertainment, and then can redeem those points towards airfare on American as though they were cash, you get rebates up to 4.8% on some spend. That’s pretty strong.
And despite the fact that American doesn’t fly to Africa, they do codeshare with British Airways to Africa. You can buy paid American Airlines tickets to Africa as a result. You could even use American miles, then, to upgrade the transatlantic portion that’s actually flying American.
Unfortunately Citi points aren’t ideal for premium cabin tickets using this technique. Here’s a calendar showing lowest American Airline fares New York – Johannesburg roundtrip next month:
At 1.6 cents apiece it’ll cost about 400,000 points for a paid business class roundtrip (which does earn miles and credit towards status).
Citi points are a fantastic option for paid American domestic and economy travel, less good for premium cabin international travel.
Upgrading a Paid Ticket to Africa
American Airlines Executive Platinum members get 8 confirmed upgrades valid on just about any American Airlines fares for travel on American Airlines flights. But that only gets you to Europe, and a Platinum member doesn’t get these.
American AAdvantage will allow you to upgrade American flights with miles (and a cash co-pay, waived only for Concierge Key members).
There actually is an ability to upgrade using American miles on British Airways. The sweet spot is buying premium economy and using miles to upgrade to business (an economy ticket on British Airways would only be upgradable to premium economy).
However you can only use American miles to upgrade full fare tickets. For British Airways Premium Economy that means W fares only.
In contrast you can use British Airways points to upgrade W, E, and T premium economy fares to business class provided upgrade space is available.
So it may be a better option to buy a British Airways ticket to Africa, and use British Airways points for the upgrade as expensive in points as that will be since it obviates the need to purchase full fare.
Getting to Africa Using AAdvantage Miles
When you’re using American miles for an award ticket to Africa, your options are limited. If you’re an American Airlines flyer, or just someone with lots of American Airlines miles, it’s worth reviewing my Ultimate Guide to Booking Award Tickets Using American Miles.
The first thing to know is that American has a rule that when flying between two regions (in this case, US/Canada and Africa) you cannot connect in a third, different region outside of those unless a specific exception is provided for.
The long-standing exception is that you are permitted to connect in Europe. British Airways flies from London to several destinations in Africa. British Airways award space to Africa can be sparse especially in premium cabins, and those awards entail paying fuel surcharges in addition to taxes.
The more recent exception is that you are permitted to connect in Doha, Qatar provided you arrive and depart there on Qatar Airways. Qatar is a recent addition to the oneworld alliance partnering with American. (Although American partners with Etihad based in Abu Dhabi, you cannot fly Etihad to and from Africa on a single award — you’d be charged for an award from the US to Middle East and separately for an award Middle East to Africa.)
In general I find that American’s awards to Africa are difficult to get and overpriced. Here’s American’s award chart to/from the US. Africa is 150,000 miles roundtrip in business class, 200,000 miles in first. Again, you’ll need to either connect in London (and pay fuel surcharges) or in Doha.